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Lot’s Absence in Abraham’s Plea for Sodom and Gomorrah

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Lot’s Absence in Abraham’s Plea for Sodom and Gomorrah

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Lot’s Absence in Abraham’s Plea for Sodom and Gomorrah

When YHWH tells Abraham that Sodom and Gomorrah are to be destroyed, Abraham pleads for their lives without mentioning Lot. Why? The answer is in the sources describing Lot's accompanying of Abram to Canaan and their eventual separation.

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Lot’s Absence in Abraham’s Plea for Sodom and Gomorrah

Abraham Sees Sodom in Flames, James Tissot, c. 1896-1902. The Jewish Museum

When Abraham learns that YHWH is going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham famously tries to save the towns by asking YHWH to spare them if there are fifty righteous people, and continues by dropping the number until he hits ten, and then stops (Gen 18:20­–33). Notably, he never asks YHWH to save his nephew Lot.

This is surprising considering how Abraham goes to war to save Lot when he was captured by the four kings, gathering together an army, and chasing the enemy as far north as Damascus (Gen 14). And yet, here, in Genesis 18, Abraham says not a word to YHWH about Lot, nor does he get on his donkey and rush to Sodom to warn Lot himself.

Traditional commentators struggle with this question. R. Saadia Gaon (892–942), in his commentary (ad loc.) suggests that the ten righteous people are Lot’s family:

כסבור היה, שיש בסדום עשרה [צדיקים]: לוט ואשתו, ארבע בנותיו וארבעת חתניו. וראיה לכך, שארבע בנות היו ללוט ממה שנאמר: וידבר אל חתניו לוקחי בנותיו הנשואות, וכשלא יצאו אלה, אמרו לו המלאכים: קח את שתי בנותיך הנמצאות, וחשב אברהם שארבעתן נשואות.
He believed that Sodom had ten [righteous]: Lot and his wife, his four daughters, and four sons-in-law. The proof that Lot had four daughters is from what is said (Gen 19:14) “and he spoke to his sons-in-law, who had married his daughters,” they were married. And when they would not come with him, the angels said to him (Gen 19:15), “take the two daughters who are with you.” But Abraham thought all four of them were married.

Radak (R. David Kimhi, 1160–1235) in contrast, suggests in his commentary, that Abraham believed that Lot by now may have been a wicked person, since he stayed in Sodom for so long:

ולא זכר לו לוט שיצילנו כי חשב שיכלה בכלל הרשעים כיון שנשתקע וישב אצלם ולא היה לו דרך להנצל אם לא יצא מן העיר, גם לא ידע אם היה צדיק או למד ממעשיהם.
And he didn’t mention Lot, to ask for him to be saved, since he thought that he would be destroyed among the wicked, since he assimilated into them and dwelt with them, and he had no way to be saved unless he left the city. [Abraham] didn’t even know whether he was still righteous or if he learned from their ways.

These answers go well beyond what is explicit in the text and highlight the problem.

Does Lot Accompany Abraham to Canaan?

The absence of Lot in Abraham’s plea for Sodom in chapter 18 highlights Lot’s artificial presence in several earlier passages. For example, the story of Abram’s going to Canaan contains a classic doublet, i.e., an account told twice, deriving from separate sources. Genesis 12:1–3 relays YHWH’s command that Abraham go to the land that YHWH will show him, after which Abram does so twice:

בראשית יב:ה וַיִּקַּח אַבְרָם אֶת שָׂרַי אִשְׁתּוֹ וְאֶת לוֹט בֶּן אָחִיו וְאֶת כָּל רְכוּשָׁם אֲשֶׁר רָכָשׁוּ וְאֶת הַנֶּפֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר עָשׂוּ בְחָרָן וַיֵּצְאוּ לָלֶכֶת אַרְצָה כְּנַעַן וַיָּבֹאוּ אַרְצָה כְּנָעַן.

בראשית יב:ד וַיֵּלֶךְ אַבְרָם כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר אֵלָיו יְ־הוָה וַיֵּלֶךְ אִתּוֹ לוֹט...

Gen 12:5 Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother's son Lot, and all the possessions that they had amassed, and the persons that they had acquired in Haran; and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived in the land of Canaan.

Gen 12:4 …Abram went forth as YHWH had commanded him, and Lot went with him.

Documentary scholars identify verse 5 as P, which connects to 11:31, in which Terah initiates the trip with Abram and Lot, which Abram now continues. In contrast, the command in vv. 1–3 and the follow up in v. 4 is identified as J. While Lot is well integrated syntactically in the P verse, he seems like a secondary add-on in the J verse, and isn’t mentioned in the command.

Early J: Without Lot

The next mention of Lot is also in J, after Abram and Sarai return from Egypt:

בראשית יג:א וַיַּעַל אַבְרָם מִמִּצְרַיִם הוּא וְאִשְׁתּוֹ וְכָל אֲשֶׁר לוֹ וְלוֹט עִמּוֹ הַנֶּגְבָּה.
Gen 13:1 From Egypt, Abram went up, with his wife and all that he possessed, together with Lot, into the Negev.

Here Lot is snuck in, in a syntactically awkward manner, after the reference to Abram’s belongings.

The third mention of Lot in J, which introduces the story of the conflict between Lot and Abraham’s shepherds, also seems artificial:

בראשית יג:ג וַיֵּלֶךְ לְמַסָּעָיו מִנֶּגֶב וְעַד בֵּית אֵל עַד הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר הָיָה שָׁם (אהלה) [אָהֳלוֹ] בַּתְּחִלָּה בֵּין בֵּית אֵל וּבֵין הָעָי. יג:ד אֶל מְקוֹם הַמִּזְבֵּחַ אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה שָׁם בָּרִאשֹׁנָה וַיִּקְרָא שָׁם אַבְרָם בְּשֵׁם יְ־הוָה. יג:ה וְגַם לְלוֹט הַהֹלֵךְ אֶת אַבְרָם הָיָה צֹאן וּבָקָר וְאֹהָלִים.
Gen 13:3 And (Abram) proceeded by stages from the Negev as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been formerly, between Bethel and Ai, 13:4 the site of the altar that he had built there at first; and there Abram invoked YHWH by name. 13:5 Lot too, who went with Abram, had flocks and herds and tents.

Finally, after the two separate from each other, a story that I argue was added later (see discussion below), Lot is again mentioned as an afterthought:

בראשית יג:יד וַי־הוָה אָמַר אֶל אַבְרָם אַחֲרֵי הִפָּרֶד לוֹט מֵעִמּוֹ שָׂא נָא עֵינֶיךָ וּרְאֵה מִן הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה שָׁם צָפֹנָה וָנֶגְבָּה וָקֵדְמָה וָיָמָּה. יג:טו כִּי אֶת כָּל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה רֹאֶה לְךָ אֶתְּנֶנָּה וּלְזַרְעֲךָ עַד עוֹלָם. יג:טז וְשַׂמְתִּי אֶת זַרְעֲךָ כַּעֲפַר הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אִם יוּכַל אִישׁ לִמְנוֹת אֶת עֲפַר הָאָרֶץ גַּם זַרְעֲךָ יִמָּנֶה. יג:יז קוּם הִתְהַלֵּךְ בָּאָרֶץ לְאָרְכָּהּ וּלְרָחְבָּהּ כִּי לְךָ אֶתְּנֶנָּה.
Gen 13:14 And YHWH said to Abram, after Lot had parted from him, “Raise your eyes and look out from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west, 13:15 for I give all the land that you see to you and your offspring forever. 13:16 I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, then your offspring too can be counted. 13:17 Up, walk about the land, through its length and its breadth, for I give it to you.”

Traditional interpreters suggest that YHWH’s message here is a reaction to Lot’s leaving. For instance, Radak writes:

בעוד שהיה לוט עמו, שמא היה סבור אברם כי גם ללוט יהיה חלק בארץ, כי קרובו היה ועמו יצא... עתה אחר שנפרד לוט מעמו אמר לו אל תחשוב כי לאחר יהיה חלק בארץ, אלא לך לבדך ולזרעך אתננה ואל תחשוב כי ללוט ולזרעו יהיה חלק עם בניך בארץ
When Lot was still with him, perhaps Abram thought that Lot would also get a share in the land, because he was a relative and came with him… now after Lot separated from him, [God] said to him: “Don’t think that someone else will get a share of the land, rather to you alone and your offspring do I give it, and do not think that Lot and his offspring will get a share in the land with your sons.”

And yet, despite the message’s length, YHWH says nothing about Lot. Thus, it would seem that the blessing in Gen 13 has nothing to do with Lot. In fact, it originally followed directly from the previous J passage:

בראשית יג:ג וַיֵּלֶךְ לְמַסָּעָיו מִנֶּגֶב וְעַד בֵּית אֵל עַד הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר הָיָה שָׁם (אהלה) [אָהֳלוֹ] בַּתְּחִלָּה בֵּין בֵּית אֵל וּבֵין הָעָי. יג:ד אֶל מְקוֹם הַמִּזְבֵּחַ אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה שָׁם בָּרִאשֹׁנָה וַיִּקְרָא שָׁם אַבְרָם בְּשֵׁם יְ־הוָה. // יג:יד וַי־הוָה אָמַר אֶל אַבְרָם // שָׂא נָא עֵינֶיךָ וּרְאֵה מִן הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה שָׁם צָפֹנָה וָנֶגְבָּה וָקֵדְמָה וָיָמָּה.
Gen 13:3 And he proceeded by stages from the Negev as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been formerly, between Bethel and Ai, 13:4 the site of the altar that he had built there at first; and there Abram invoked YHWH by name. // 13:14 And YHWH said to Abram // “Raise your eyes and look out from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west…”

Thus, I suggest that the oldest layers of J never had Lot as a character, and that all the references to him are secondary.

No Lot to Save

This is why Abraham doesn’t ask YHWH to save Lot, because that story doesn’t know of any nephew of Abraham named Lot living in Sodom. Indeed, the verses which formed the original ending of the story of Abraham arguing with God are easily discernable:

בראשית יח:לג וַיֵּלֶךְ יְ־הוָה כַּאֲשֶׁר כִּלָּה לְדַבֵּר אֶל אַבְרָהָם וְאַבְרָהָם שָׁב לִמְקֹמוֹ. // יט:כז וַיַּשְׁכֵּם אַבְרָהָם בַּבֹּקֶר אֶל הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר עָמַד שָׁם אֶת פְּנֵי יְ־הוָה. יט:כח וַיַּשְׁקֵף עַל פְּנֵי סְדֹם וַעֲמֹרָה וְעַל כָּל פְּנֵי אֶרֶץ הַכִּכָּר וַיַּרְא וְהִנֵּה עָלָה קִיטֹר הָאָרֶץ כְּקִיטֹר הַכִּבְשָׁן.
Gen 18:33 When YHWH had finished speaking to Abraham, He departed; and Abraham returned to his place. // 19:27 Next morning, Abraham hurried to the place where he had stood before YHWH, 19:28 and, looking down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and all the land of the Plain, he saw the smoke of the land rising like the smoke of a kiln.

In the oldest version of J, therefore, the story of Abraham attempting to save Sodom ended with Abraham seeing the failed result of his attempt to save the city. It is only after the school J encounters early P that it was prompted to add in the character Lot, his separation from Abraham, and how he was saved from Sodom.[1]

The Separation of Lot and Abram in P

In contrast to the original J source, Lot is a significant figure in P. As noted above, in Gen 12:5, the Priestly narrative has Lot coming along with Abram. This narrative continues directly to the Priestly version of the conflict between Abraham and Lot, which also features the key term רְכוּשׁ, “property,” which suggests that these texts belong together:

בראשית יב:ה וַיִּקַּח אַבְרָם אֶת שָׂרַי אִשְׁתּוֹ וְאֶת לוֹט בֶּן אָחִיו וְאֶת כָּל רְכוּשָׁם אֲשֶׁר רָכָשׁוּ וְאֶת הַנֶּפֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר עָשׂוּ בְחָרָן וַיֵּצְאוּ לָלֶכֶת אַרְצָה כְּנַעַן וַיָּבֹאוּ אַרְצָה כְּנָעַן. // יב:ו וְהַכְּנַעֲנִי אָז בָּאָרֶץ.// יג:ו וְלֹא נָשָׂא אֹתָם הָאָרֶץ לָשֶׁבֶת יַחְדָּו כִּי הָיָה רְכוּשָׁם רָב וְלֹא יָכְלוּ לָשֶׁבֶת יַחְדָּו. // יג:ז וְהַכְּנַעֲנִי וְהַפְּרִזִּי אָז יֹשֵׁב בָּאָרֶץ.
Gen 12:5 Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother's son Lot, and all the possessions that they had amassed, and the persons that they had acquired in Haran; and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived in the land of Canaan, // 12:6 and the Canaanites were then in the land. // 13:6 and the land could not support them staying together; for their possessions were so great, and they could not remain together, // 13:7 and the Canaanites and Perizzites were then in the land.

The problem faced by Abraham and Lot is clear to them from the start. The land is already crowded with Canaanites,[2] and each of them has much property, so they need to separate.

יג:י וַיִּשָּׂא לוֹט אֶת עֵינָיו וַיַּרְא אֶת כָּל כִּכַּר הַיַּרְדֵּן כִּי כֻלָּהּ מַשְׁקֶה... יג:יא וַיִּבְחַר לוֹ לוֹט אֵת כָּל כִּכַּר הַיַּרְדֵּן // וַיִּפָּרְדוּ אִישׁ מֵעַל אָחִיו. יג:יב אַבְרָם יָשַׁב בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן וְלוֹט יָשַׁב בְּעָרֵי הַכִּכָּר.
13:10 Lot lifted his eyes and saw the whole plain of the Jordan, that all of it was well watered… 13:11 and Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan // and they parted from each other; 13:12 Abram remained in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled in the cities of the Plain.

Thus Lot leaves Canaan proper and moves to the Jordanian plain, north of the Dead Sea (not Sodom). The separation of “brothers” due to an abundance of property is later repeated in the Priestly account of Jacob and Esau:

בראשית לו:ו וַיִּקַּח עֵשָׂו אֶת נָשָׁיו וְאֶת בָּנָיו וְאֶת בְּנֹתָיו וְאֶת כָּל נַפְשׁוֹת בֵּיתוֹ וְאֶת מִקְנֵהוּ וְאֶת כָּל בְּהֶמְתּוֹ וְאֵת כָּל קִנְיָנוֹ אֲשֶׁר רָכַשׁ בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן וַיֵּלֶךְ אֶל אֶרֶץ מִפְּנֵי יַעֲקֹב אָחִיו. לו:ז כִּי הָיָה רְכוּשָׁם רָב מִשֶּׁבֶת יַחְדָּו וְלֹא יָכְלָה אֶרֶץ מְגוּרֵיהֶם לָשֵׂאת אֹתָם מִפְּנֵי מִקְנֵיהֶם. לו:ח וַיֵּשֶׁב עֵשָׂו בְּהַר שֵׂעִיר עֵשָׂו הוּא אֱדוֹם.
Gen 36:6 Esau took his wives, his sons and daughters, and all the members of his household, his cattle and all his livestock, and all the property that he had acquired in the land of Canaan, and went to another land because of his brother Jacob. 36:7 For their possessions were too many for them to dwell together, and the land where they sojourned could not support them because of their livestock. 36:8 So Esau settled in the hill country of Seir—Esau being Edom.

Both stories are conflict-free and end with the covenantal “brother” remaining in Canaan.

The Separation of Lot and Abraham in Late J

The late J story has a negative valence.

בראשית יג:ה וְגַם לְלוֹט הַהֹלֵךְ אֶת אַבְרָם הָיָה צֹאן וּבָקָר וְאֹהָלִים. // יג:ז וַיְהִי רִיב בֵּין רֹעֵי מִקְנֵה אַבְרָם וּבֵין רֹעֵי מִקְנֵה לוֹט
Gen 13:5 Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, // 13:7 And there was quarreling between the herdsmen of Abram's cattle and those of Lot's cattle.

Some differences with the Priestly story stand out. First, the description of the wealth here does not use the general term רְכוּשׁ, “property,” but specifies animals. Second, an actual conflict arises. This leads Abram to suggest to Lot that they avoid conflict by separating:

בראשית יג:ח וַיֹּאמֶר אַבְרָם אֶל לוֹט אַל נָא תְהִי מְרִיבָה בֵּינִי וּבֵינֶיךָ וּבֵין רֹעַי וּבֵין רֹעֶיךָ כִּי אֲנָשִׁים אַחִים אֲנָחְנוּ. יג:ט הֲלֹא כָל הָאָרֶץ לְפָנֶיךָ הִפָּרֶד נָא מֵעָלָי אִם הַשְּׂמֹאל וְאֵימִנָה וְאִם הַיָּמִין וְאַשְׂמְאִילָה. // וַיִּסַּע לוֹט מִקֶּדֶם // יג:יב וַיֶּאֱהַל עַד סְדֹם. יג:יג וְאַנְשֵׁי סְדֹם רָעִים וְחַטָּאִים לַי־הוָה מְאֹד.
Gen 13:8 Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, between my herdsmen and yours, for we are kinsmen. 13:9 Is not the whole land before you? Let us separate: if you go north, I will go south; and if you go south, I will go north.” // 3:11 Lot journeyed eastward, // 13:12 And he pitched his tent by Sodom. 13:13 Now the inhabitants of Sodom were very wicked sinners against YHWH.

Here Lot goes against Abraham’s specific advice, to travel north or south, by heading east, and he ends up pitching his tent by Sodom, a wicked place.

The Jordan Plain or Sodom and Gomorrah: Three Redactions

P’s reference to the Jordan Plain and J’s to Sodom are not just terminologically different, but geographically: The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah are south of the Dead Sea, whereas the Jordan Plain is north of it, by the Jordan River. This is clear from the account where Solomon has the metal vessels of the Temple cast in the Jordan Plain, which the text notes was near Succot (Deir Alla) and Zarethan (Tell es-Sa’idiyeh), both north of the Dead Sea.

מלכים א ז:מו בְּכִכַּר הַיַּרְדֵּן יְצָקָם הַמֶּלֶךְ בְּמַעֲבֵה הָאֲדָמָה בֵּין סֻכּוֹת וּבֵין צָרְתָן.
1 Kgs 7:46 The king had them cast in earthen molds, in the Jordan Plain between Succoth and Zarethan.

This problem was sufficiently bothersome to the redactors, that they tried numerous times to equate the two in the reader’s minds, by combining the terms. Thus the reference to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was added to the P verse about the cities of the plains.

בראשית יג:י וַיִּשָּׂא לוֹט אֶת עֵינָיו וַיַּרְא אֶת כָּל כִּכַּר הַיַּרְדֵּן כִּי כֻלָּהּ מַשְׁקֶה לִפְנֵי שַׁחֵת יְ־הוָה אֶת סְדֹם וְאֶת עֲמֹרָה כְּגַן יְ־הוָה כְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם בֹּאֲכָה צֹעַר.
13:10 Lot lifted his eyes and saw the whole plain of the Jordan, that all of it was well watered, this was before YHWH had destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, like the garden of YHWH, like the land of Egypt, all the way to Zoar.

The redactor added not only Sodom and Gomorrah but Zoar, another southern city, to imply that the Jordan Plain is actually just the name of the region south of the Dead Sea where all of these cities are located.[3]

The inverse took place in the J verse about Abraham seeing the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah noted above, where a version of the P phrase was added to J:

בראשית יט:כח וַיַּשְׁקֵף עַל פְּנֵי סְדֹם וַעֲמֹרָה וְעַל כָּל פְּנֵי אֶרֶץ הַכִּכָּר וַיַּרְא וְהִנֵּה עָלָה קִיטֹר הָאָרֶץ כְּקִיטֹר הַכִּבְשָׁן.
Gen 19:28 He looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and all the land of the Plain, he saw the smoke of the land rising like the smoke of a kiln.

Not only is the italicized phrase superfluous, but nothing was said about “the Plain” in the negotiations between YHWH and Abraham earlier in the story; only Sodom and Gomorrah are mentioned. “The Plain” is added yet again in the late J story of the destruction of Sodom:

בראשית יט:כד וַי־הוָה הִמְטִיר עַל סְדֹם וְעַל עֲמֹרָה גָּפְרִית וָאֵשׁ מֵאֵת יְ־הוָה מִן הַשָּׁמָיִם. יט:כה וַיַּהֲפֹךְ אֶת הֶעָרִים הָאֵל וְאֵת כָּל הַכִּכָּר וְאֵת כָּל יֹשְׁבֵי הֶעָרִים וְצֶמַח הָאֲדָמָה.
Gen 19:24 YHWH rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah sulfurous fire from YHWH out of heaven. 19:25 He annihilated those cities and the entire Plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities and the vegetation of the ground.

Here the redactor again uses only “the Plain,” without mentioning Jordan, which would call the reader’s attention to the problem.

Lot Escapes Destruction in P

Having isolated the Priestly Lot story and its literary style, we can also identify its continuation. In Genesis 19 (the late J account of how Lot escapes from Sodom), after Lot has already escaped to Zoar, we are suddenly told that God saved Lot:

בראשית יט:כט וַיְהִי בְּשַׁחֵת אֱלֹהִים אֶת עָרֵי הַכִּכָּר וַיִּזְכֹּר אֱלֹהִים אֶת אַבְרָהָם וַיְשַׁלַּח אֶת לוֹט מִתּוֹךְ הַהֲפֵכָה בַּהֲפֹךְ אֶת הֶעָרִים אֲשֶׁר יָשַׁב בָּהֵן לוֹט.
Gen 19:29 And it was that when God destroyed the cities of the Plain, God remembered Abraham and removed Lot from the midst of the upheaval—when he overturned the cities where Lot dwelt.[4]

The Priestly language here is clear. The verse uses the divine name Elohim rather than YHWH, and the phrase וַיִּזְכֹּר אֱלֹהִים אֶת “and God remembered X” typifies P. It is found, for example, in the flood story:

בראשית ח:א וַיִּזְכֹּר אֱלֹהִים אֶת נֹחַ וְאֵת כָּל הַחַיָּה וְאֶת כָּל הַבְּהֵמָה אֲשֶׁר אִתּוֹ בַּתֵּבָה...
Gen 8:1 God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark…

Most significantly, in terms of narrative continuity, verse 29 connects directly to the end of the Priestly story of Lot’s separation from Abraham:

יג:יב אַבְרָם יָשַׁב בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן וְלוֹט יָשַׁב בְּעָרֵי הַכִּכָּר // יט:כט וַיְהִי בְּשַׁחֵת אֱלֹהִים אֶת עָרֵי הַכִּכָּר וַיִּזְכֹּר אֱלֹהִים אֶת אַבְרָהָם וַיְשַׁלַּח אֶת לוֹט מִתּוֹךְ הַהֲפֵכָה.
13:12 Abram remained in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled in the cities of the Plain // 19:29 And it was that when God destroyed the cities of the Plain, God remembered Abraham and removed Lot from the midst of the upheaval.

The ending of the passage (19:29) was cut from the P Lot story but the redactor of the Pentateuch, and placed at the end of (late) J’s story of the destruction of Sodom, which takes place later in the J narrative.[5] While P is thinking of the north and J of the south, the two accounts—P’s destruction of the cities in the Jordan Plain and J’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah—are both etiological explanations for the same phenomenon, the salt and sulfur of the Dead Sea area,[6] and it is understandable why the redactor would want them to go together, even at the expense of moving a verse to a new context.

The Lot-less J and the Empty Land

When we remove Lot from the oldest layer of J, we can see J’s original Abraham story. Abram enters the land at God’s command, travelling from Shechem, south to Bethel, then to the Negev, then north back to Bethel,[7] building altars and calling on YHWH, who tells him that the land upon which he travels will be his. Abram interacts only with Sarah, Hagar, and YHWH.[8] This is why Abraham does not ask YHWH to save Lot; when this story was written, J had no Lot for YHWH to save.

Appendix

Source Division of the Abraham and Lot Separation Account

P is regular text and in black, J is indented and in blue, the redactor’s additions are in italics:

בראשית יג:ה וְגַם לְלוֹט הַהֹלֵךְ אֶת אַבְרָם הָיָה צֹאן וּבָקָר וְאֹהָלִים.
Gen 13:5 Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents,
יג:ו וְלֹא נָשָׂא אֹתָם הָאָרֶץ לָשֶׁבֶת יַחְדָּו כִּי הָיָה רְכוּשָׁם רָב וְלֹא יָכְלוּ לָשֶׁבֶת יַחְדָּו,
13:6 and the land could not support them staying together; for their possessions were so great, and they could not remain together.
יג:ז וַיְהִי רִיב בֵּין רֹעֵי מִקְנֵה אַבְרָם וּבֵין רֹעֵי מִקְנֵה לוֹט
13:7 And there was quarreling between the herdsmen of Abram's cattle and those of Lot's cattle.
וְהַכְּנַעֲנִי וְהַפְּרִזִּי אָז יֹשֵׁב בָּאָרֶץ.
and the Canaanites and Perizzites were then dwelling in the land.
יג:ח וַיֹּאמֶר אַבְרָם אֶל לוֹט אַל נָא תְהִי מְרִיבָה בֵּינִי וּבֵינֶיךָ וּבֵין רֹעַי וּבֵין רֹעֶיךָ כִּי אֲנָשִׁים אַחִים אֲנָחְנוּ. יג:ט הֲלֹא כָל הָאָרֶץ לְפָנֶיךָ הִפָּרֶד נָא מֵעָלָי אִם הַשְּׂמֹאל וְאֵימִנָה וְאִם הַיָּמִין וְאַשְׂמְאִילָה.
13:8 Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, between my herdsmen and yours, for we are kinsmen. 13:9 Is not the whole land before you? Let us separate: if you go north, I will go south; and if you go south, I will go north.”
יג:י וַיִּשָּׂא לוֹט אֶת עֵינָיו וַיַּרְא אֶת כָּל כִּכַּר הַיַּרְדֵּן כִּי כֻלָּהּ מַשְׁקֶה לִפְנֵי שַׁחֵת יְ־הוָה אֶת סְדֹם וְאֶת עֲמֹרָה כְּגַן יְ־הוָה כְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם בֹּאֲכָה צֹעַר. יג:יא וַיִּבְחַר לוֹ לוֹט אֵת כָּל כִּכַּר הַיַּרְדֵּן
13:10 Lot lifted his eyes and saw the whole plain of the Jordan, that all of it was well watered, this was before YHWH had destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, like the garden of YHWH, like the land of Egypt, all the way to Zoar. 13:11 Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan,
וַיִּסַּע לוֹט מִקֶּדֶם
and Lot journeyed eastward.
וַיִּפָּרְדוּ אִישׁ מֵעַל אָחִיו. יג:יב אַבְרָם יָשַׁב בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן וְלוֹט יָשַׁב בְּעָרֵי הַכִּכָּר
and they parted from each other; 13:12 Abram remained in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled in the cities of the Plain.
וַיֶּאֱהַל עַד סְדֹם. יג:יג וְאַנְשֵׁי סְדֹם רָעִים וְחַטָּאִים לַי־הוָה מְאֹד.
And he pitched his tent by Sodom. 13:13 Now the inhabitants of Sodom were very wicked sinners against YHWH.

Published

October 22, 2021

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Last Updated

September 15, 2022

Footnotes

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Dr. Rabbi Zev Farber is the Senior Editor of TheTorah.com, and a Research Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute's Kogod Center. He holds a Ph.D. from Emory University in Jewish Religious Cultures and Hebrew Bible, an M.A. from Hebrew University in Jewish History (biblical period), as well as ordination (yoreh yoreh) and advanced ordination (yadin yadin) from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) Rabbinical School. He is the author of Images of Joshua in the Bible and their Reception (De Gruyter 2016) and editor (with Jacob L. Wright) of Archaeology and History of Eighth Century Judah (SBL 2018).